Anxiety broke her heart.

My grandmother’s official cause of death was coronary, but it was really anxiety that killed her.

I remember when she came to visit us on the West Coast, for the Thanksgiving before she died. She kept complaining that she had heart burn. She’s talked to her doctor about it and they gave her some Maalox. She kept taking it and it didn’t help. The burning persisted. The doctor suggested that she have cardiac testing. A sensation similar to heartburn is common among women with potentially life-threatening heart disease, but is often mistaken for indigestion.

Every time they attempted the testing, my grandmother would have to drive to Boston, would arrive, would be readied for the testing – but her anxiety level was so high, that they couldn’t follow through with the testing. Her fears about the driving, and the testing got her so amped up that it was pointless to try to gauge what her heart would be doing under “normal” circumstances. They tried the testing several times.

I remember laying next to her, snuggled up in bed, thinking “what if I wake up and she’s dead”.

Not long after Christmas, they’d finally installed 911 in the town that she lived in. She called it just to test it out once, since she was an older lady who lived alone. She wanted to know what to do if something happened to her while she was by herself at her house. The practice paid off the following week – when she had a stronger sensation in her chest, and she didn’t feel good. She called 911 and the medics took her to the hospital.

She’d had a massive heart attack. Four of the blood vessels feeding oxygen and nutrients to her heart were more then 90% blocked, and probably had been compromised for years. They performed a quadruple bypass surgery.

It was after surgery that she died. She’d asked my aunt to bring a nurse in to help her with something. In the 20 seconds my aunt was gone, my grandmother died. They opened her up right there in her recovery bed but there was no saving her – because of the damage her heart muscle had sustained, the wall of her heart had given way. They couldn’t even sew it back together because the tissue was so damaged.

She died of a broken heart.

She died because her fears about what might happen, kept her from living in the present. She died because anxiety ruled her life.

She lived her life this way. I never really questioned my grandmother’s eccentricity in this department. Not much anyway. After all, our whole family is a stew of anxiety genes. It’s not like she was the only one who got worked up about almost everything. My grandmother was overly cautious, but my time with her was limited, so I didn’t see the point of antagonizing her. Plus, didn’t her caution mean that she loved us? She worried obsessively about our physical safety. And the situations that she didn’t worry about, my grandfather did. They always took good care of me.

The last summer that I went to visit her, I was 19 years old, a licensed driver with a clean driving record, and I didn’t even live at home anymore, but I was not allowed to drive – she did not want me killed in a motor vehicle accident on her watch. My mother said “ma, this girl drives around downtown Seattle and on the freeways all the time, she’ll be ok”. Nope. Not on Grammy’s watch. Not in Grammy’s car.

I know – or at least I feel – that we go when we go. It’s not up to us. It’s not something we can control. But if she’d been as obsessed about taking care of her health, that same way that she was obsessed with mine, or to the same degree that she was afraid of driving, and taking medical tests, I can’t help thinking we might have had more time with her.

Nobody can tell me that anxiety isn’t important – doesn’t matter – is a minor mental health issue. Anxiety kills people.


6 thoughts on “Anxiety broke her heart.

  1. “She died because her fears about what might happen, kept her from living in the present. She died because anxiety ruled her life.”

    How very sad. My heart hurts for her and for you.

    “Nobody can tell me that anxiety isn’t important – doesn’t matter – is a minor mental health issue. Anxiety kills people.”

    Truer than you realize — some of them kill themselves because they cannot live with crippling anxiety bordering on chronic fear. “Sam” – the son of someone close to me – suffered from this kind of crippling anxiety all his life.

    What’s REALLY sad is that there is a medication that could have kept Sam alive to see his 35th birthday — a medication that would have kept him relatively calm and centered – valium.

    But when he asked his doctor about it, the MD chastised him for “drug seeking behavior,” threatening – if he asked about it again – to take him off the medication he HAD been on for 10 years without escalation or abuse — the medication that did little more than take the edge off — *and* “put him on a list so that no other doctor could prescribe to him”.

    GREAT thing for a shrink to say to a long-term patient seeing him for anxiety, huh?

    The reason this man-child went to his doctor for a prescription was to AVOID taking expensive and potentially lethal “street drugs” (beyond his one “buy” to see if it might work better than what his doctor was prescribing) – a responsible act.

    What’s **SADDEST OF ALL** is that our politicians pass laws designed to protect potential drug abusers without thinking about the implications to the lives of those who need these substances as MEDICATION.

    It is heart-breaking that our laws allow this kind of nonsense to happen even ONCE. Yet I currently know of quite a few individuals in a similar situation — and nobody will prescribe the medication known to work. “Addictive” doncha’ know.

    Recreational use and medicinal use have completely different addiction outcome trajectories — and the AMA knows this. Where is their advocacy on psychological pharmaceuticals that are Schedule II controlled substances?

    And don’t EVEN get me started on the hoops that ADDers must jump through to get *their* meds. The Red Queen is in charge and we’re painting the roses BLACK.

    Sorry for the rant – I actually jumped over here to say thanks for following & welcome aboard. (this death was recent — it will take several years, I’m sure, before I stop getting hooked, activating my outrage).

    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMore dot com)
    – ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder –
    “It takes a village to educate a world!”

    • Yes – it can be very challenging for people to get what they need. I had another relative – my uncle, the son of the grandmother that I wrote about here – who committed suicide after a lifelong battle with anxiety and depression, which involved a long history of self-medicating. How bad can it get? BAD. And yes, it’s bad when politicians are making medical decisions for all of us – but worse, I think, is that many psych prescribers just aren’t that good at what they do.

      • AND -IMHO – that last is the understatement of the decade.

        When you get a minute, check out “The Top Ten Stupid Comments from [supposed] ADD Professionals.” More than a bit snide in tone – for which I “apologize” up top – but sadly, every single word is heart-breakingly true – and needs to be heard by ALL helping professionals, especially those who prescribe meds.

        Skim the comments too – a couple of docs ring in positively.

        I could write similar for every single disorder I support (but I’ll keep it to this one!)

  2. I believe anxiety sure can kill someone, just as depression can kill someone. People can be too anxious to go to doctors, or even too anxious to leave their house, to get help for other medical issues. Plus, the very issue of anxiety is not good for your heart or any other parts of your body!

  3. I read the book “When the Body Says No” when it was first published. I was relieved that an M.D. (in Canada) was finally able to put into writing just how things like anxiety, constant worry, stress, etc. does kill us in ways we least expect and don’t realise.
    Anxiety attacks and Panic Attacks feel like death, a horrible death. I’m sorry to read that anxiety ruled and claimed your grandmother’s life, that is unfortunate and I hope that someone reads your post and is able to get the help they need for anxiety.

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